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The American

tn_americanGeorge Clooney is… THE AMERICAN. In Anton Corbijn’s Americanized remake of Soderbergh’s THE LIMEY, Clooney plays–

nah, that’s not true, it’s not a remake. That would be weird though, especially since Clooney knows Soderbergh pretty good. But I do think THE AMERICAN joins THE LIMEY in a modern genre that I think of as arthouse badass. These are movies that are too quiet and leisurely paced to show to a bunch of teens in a multiplex, but also got motherfuckers getting shot or punched. THE AMERICAN is much more basic and straightforward than THE LIMEY, LIMITS OF CONTROL or GHOST DOG, and admittedly less original. But there’s something powerful about its simplicity. Like a bullet.

mp_americanThe movie starts with Clooney romancing some beautiful gal in a picturesque snowbound cottage somewhere in Sweden. Ah, shit, I can’t even get into this without a big spoiler, so here goes, no turning back now. He sees suspicious footprints just before bullets start popping off and next thing you know he’s shot his girl in the back of the head. It’s kind of a rash decision because he must think she set him up, at least in that moment, but I think he immediately changes his mind. Fellas, let this be a lesson to you. Think these things through before taking drastic action.

He calls his boss, who sends him to do a job in Italy. You might assume he’s a hitman, as some of the reviews say, but as far as we see in the movie he’s just the guy who provides the weapons, builds them, customizes them. THE MACHINIST was already taken so he’s THE AMERICAN because alot of guns are manufactured in America.

So the movie takes place in this little village as he tries to figure out what the hell to do. Everything he does tends to remind us – and that means it reminds him – about him killing that woman, and about the people trying to kill him. My favorite scene is when he meets his client, who turns out to be a woman. She tests out the weapon with impressive speed and thoroughness, then starts bossing him around – stand over here, shoot over there, I’ll put this target here. It’s a “just how badass is she?” combined with heavy suspense. You’re seeing how capable and fearless she is, and you’re also thinking oh god, is he gonna shoot her? Is she gonna shoot him? The overall uneventfulness of the movie really creates some thick tension.

Their meeting is disguised as a picnic, with the gun in a false compartment beneath a basket full of food. He’s good at building those too. In fact, he makes a briefcase with a layer of false clutter and throws that in free with the gun. If he ever gets out of the game maybe he could build fake bookshelves to hide people’s bat caves and sex dungeons and stuff.

But back to the picnic. It’s kind of like a double meaning because it’s a front for an arms deal but it also puts him in this romantic type situation with this gal. There’s a shot of her from behind where the light shines through her skirt, showing you the space between her legs. If you’re a straight male you may find your brain saying, “Oh yeah! Sex!” which means that’s what George is thinking too, in my opinion. And the same exact thing happens when he brings a beautiful prostitute/girlfriend to the same spot for an actual romantic picnic. These women start to blur together – the dead one, the hitwoman, the prostitute. They look kind of similar, they scare him kind of similar. Are they trying to kill him? Is he gonna kill them? Should he kill them? He’s not sure if he’s being too paranoid or not paranoid enough, and neither are we.

Anyway, my point is it should be called THE PICNICKER.

I’m convinced Clooney filmed most of this on his property with his actual girlfriends. I don’t know how much of a star he is in Italy, maybe they just call him “The American” in real life. There’s a tribute to the Italy-America cinematic nexus when he goes into a little cafe playing ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST on a screen, and one of the more tense climactic scenes seems like kind of an homage to that famous showdown, with a bus coming in instead of a train.

I can’t call this an action movie, but the shit does go down a couple times, and all the character drama foreplay makes it more satisfying. This is what I was hoping for from LIMITS OF CONTROL, actually. If it was the exact same movie but it built to a couple exciting bits like this does I would’ve loved that movie instead of just kind of liking it intellectually.

About the only iffy part is a little bit involving a butterfly. The main problem with it is that I think Billy Connolly had a butterfly tattoo and butterfly encounter in one of the BOONDOCK SAINTS movies, and the last thing anybody needs to do is give that director an excuse for his head to get any bigger, thinking George Clooney copied him. So be more careful with that in the future, Anton Corbijn.

I liked this movie, and while I was writing this review I realized I really liked this movie, because the more I thought about it the better it seemed. One of those time-release moviegoing experiences.

In THE AMERICAN 2 I hope they cover what happened to his shoes after he took them off to sneak up on that one guy. He just left them there, there’s probly a good story there man, I didn’t get a good look at them but I bet this guy wears expensive shoes.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 at 1:20 am and is filed under Crime, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

69 Responses to “The American”

  1. Entertainment Weekly gave this a bad review, but I trust Vern’s opinions waaaaaaay more than I do theirs

  2. I like Clooney and Corbin, so I’m interested in seeing this. And I like these types of movies.

    It brings a bit extra value to me that this is an extremely rare American movie that actually has finnish actors in it, even if both of them apparently play swedish characters. The woman in the beginning and the young swedish hitman (I think?) are both pretty big stars in Finland. I’m interested in seeing how well they do. They are both very good actors, but they probably don’t have much time to showcase their talent here.

  3. Glad you liked it, Vern. I don’t think I can comment without spoilers, so warning SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER.

    Okay SPOILER in the next paragraphs:

    Spoiler #1) Surprised you don’t consider it an action movie. I think the whole movie is preparation for procedure for how badass he is. I get why the public might think it’s slow but I thought you might appreciate how calculating his quiet, observational procedure was. And it seems like you’re coming to that upon reflection.

    Spoiler #2) You think he felt bad about killing the first girl? That honestly never occurred to me. I loved that he was so professional, he could kill his companion just to be safe. Whether he knew or suspected or could’ve been wrong, just better to get her out of the way, she’s seen too much.

    But the part I knew you would love, the “just how badass is she” moment at the picnic, after he’s shot the target and she has one more test for him. Holy shit, that made me think “Okay, these characters are hardcore.” I think it’s really well shot too. Even with a little handheld, that Corbijn guy knows how to show us what we need to see to understand the story without words.

  4. One Guy From Andromeda

    September 7th, 2010 at 2:40 am

    After the trailer and reading some reviews i was wondering if it wouldn’t just be like The Limits Of Control (i have never seen a Corbijn movie, so i don’t know how arty he gets). Limits was a very pretty movie, but emotionally so empty and intellectually so unsatisfying eventually i would never want to see it again.
    So this one’s like Limits but actually building to some exciting bits? With a human being in the center actually having an emotional journey (or at the very least emotions)? I am sold.

  5. They talked about Bond getting darker, but he never clipped one of his floozies just to be safe. Sounds badass to me.
    Love the look of spy thrillers set in Europe. Just seems to make for a better setting to me. Full blown action? Thats best kept across pond. I think it has something to do with how American cars and shit blows up.

  6. Things I learned from The American: a true cinema badass can build suppressors out of car parts, will run down a hitman shoeless while riding a scooter, and is unafraid of performing oral on a prostitute.

  7. Greg, its all safe to do, other than the oral on a hooker. You could end up with a swollen tongue and a speech impediment like Sylvester the cat.

  8. Or Sylvester Stallone.

  9. I was considering a double bill between this and Machete this coming weekend. Ruled it out only cause most told me this here flick was a dog. However if Vern approves then it must be at least worth a look. I did like The Limey quite a bit after all. So if the sensibilities are similar then I shouldn’t have a problem with this.

  10. THE LIMEY is a reasonable comparison, but I think a closer approximation would be LE SAMOURAI. Both that and THE AMERICAN are sparse, arty thrillers about solitary hitmen. Both films have longish, dialogue-free passages where the audience is simply invited to watch the protagonist at work. AMERICAN isn’t nearly as extreme in its style (it has a lot more dialogue, and lead character who shows a lot more emotion), and is not as good (I consider LE SAMOURAI a masterpiece, or close to it), but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t an influence.

    Going back to Vern’s review, I do think they heavily imply that Clooney is a hitman, even if they never say it. Early in the film, when his handler is giving Clooney a new job of assembling a specific sniper rifle, the handler says something to the effect of “You don’t even have to pull the trigger.” Implying that on past jobs, he has had to do that.

  11. Broddie,

    I actually saw this one in a double feature with MACHETE, and frankly I don’t think it did MACHETE any favors. THE AMERICAN’s action scenes are far more accomplished and skillful, and it’s so tightly focused that it made MACHETE look like even more of a loosely cobbled together string of puns and visual gags. I think I would have felt slightly disappointed with MACHETE either way, but watching it right after seeing what essentially turned out to be its stylistic antithesis really highlighted all its flaws.

  12. Great review. Great observation about the ladies blending together.

  13. I like how for his thumbnail pic for both the reviews of this movie and Machete, Vern grabbed a shot of the main guy looking down a scoped rifle.

  14. It actually reminded me a bit of The Conversation, what with all the paranoia (or is it?) and such.

    I really don’t believe he ever suspected that Swedish woman. She didn’t know anything. She was just a complication. And yeah, clearly he felt bad about it. Obviously, it’s a pretty stoic character, but this is George Clooney, not the aforementioned Stallone. You can read his facial expressions. Helpful in a movie like this. I really liked the scene in the cafe where the prostitute introduces him to her friend, and challenges him to acknowledge that she’s an actual person.

    And I really like the scenes of him working, and the assassin testing out the gun. They really give you that sense of craftmanship, and that these folks know what they’re doing.

    Very good movie, but it’s an arthouse flick that Focus has decided to release wide and sell as a mainstream thriller. That won’t work. Should have just marketed it honestly and with a limited release. It’s a slow, quiet, thoughtful movie.


    I like that it’s about how we build and sell these great weapons for other people to kill us with.

  15. An 80s Action Hero

    September 7th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I’m looking forward to this, as Clooney does Badass very well, whether it’s fighting vampires (From Dusk Till Dawn), Tomatoes/Tomatos (Revenge of The Killer Tomatos), or to achieve 10 million frequent flyer miles (Up In The Air).

    It’s probably heresy to say this, but I really didn’t like ‘The Limey’. Wanted to love it when it was first released but thought Terence Stamp was really poor in it, his performance took me right out of the film. Maybe I need to check it out again.

  16. Josh,

    THE CONVERSATION is another interesting, apt comparison. Even beyond the paranoia you mention, both films have protagonists whose actions (directly or indirectly) have lead to the deaths of innocents, and both fear that they are going to cause the same thing to happen again. Might make a good double feature.

  17. Josh – “Very good movie, but it’s an arthouse flick that Focus has decided to release wide and sell as a mainstream thriller. That won’t work”

    The American was top of the US Box office this weekend though, so it seems it has worked, surprisingly so as, like you say, it’s an arthouse film masquerading as a thriller. It’ll probably have a big drop off next weekend.

    I’m looking forward to this, weirdly enough its UK release is the same as Machete. Not sure who decided these two were competitors and/or a double feature. I love films about assassins/killers that look at the minutae of their life.

  18. GBG, yeah, I hadn’t checked the b.o. returns. Well, good for them. I’m glad the movie made a little money, even if I know (from the stories I’ve heard) there were a lot of pissed-off people leaving the theater.

  19. Interesting take on the shooting of the woman at the cabin, friendo. At first I thought it was just a regretfull yet cold blooded sever loose ends move on Jack’s part. Mainly because of the conversation he has with his handler afterwards, where he very adamantly says she had nothing to do with it. But this being after the fact, your take , I think makes a bit more sense. Sparsed out as the action scenes were, they certainly got the blood pumping. The perfect marriage of dramatic tension and technical action- filmaking proficiency. Cool flick, cool review. Care to speculate on why his handler turned on him. Think he’s the one who ratted him out to the swedes.

  20. Josh – yeah I can imagine so, probably similar to people who reacted negatively to “No Country for Old Men” expecting a more straightforward thriller. Check out the IMDB page for the film and you’ll find 90% of the posts are “this film was so borin!” “what was the point?” “this was so rubbish!!” etc. That’s probably a pretty accurate reaction of a lot of the “normal people” that went to see the film.

  21. I saw a story on IMDB about how it exceeded expectations at the box office but was given an overall D- rating from some exit poll service, and an F from people over 25 and “all women.” I think that’s kind of hilarious – it’s not like the trailers tried to lie about what it was. I thought it was pretty clear, but I guess most people don’t really look into what a movie is before they go see it.

    Weirdly I didn’t sense the audience hating it (which did happen when I saw the SOLARIS remake and GHOST DOG) and the several people I know who have seen it (all over 25, one a woman) all loved it. I guess we don’t count in the statistics.


  22. I saw it on Long Island with a bunch of old-timers at a Saturday matinee, and the audience seemed pretty respectful and into it, but I heard from other people about walkouts and loud complaining after the movie.

  23. That “over 25” statistic is weird, I thought us under 25 young people were meant to be all MTV ADD brained and couldn’t handle films with a slow pace.

    “I guess most people don’t really look into what a movie is before they go see it.”

    Oh man, I know that’s true but I still don’t get it. I’m not expecting everyone to have this in depth film knowledge, but so many people seem unaware of anything about the films they turn up to see, then complain when it’s not what they had a vague recollection it might perhaps be like. “George Clooney is in it? I like Clooney, he did that rom-com I liked, I guess this is a rom-com? I dunno”. I know lots of people just see films as something to pass the time on a Saturday night but it seems bizarre to have no interest at all in what you’re spending your money on.

    I think food is just to keep me alive, but I still look at the menu and pick something I like rather than randomly choosing something.

  24. Dude, I was obsessing over the shoes thing too! He just tucks ’em in an alley and then hops on that motorbike. I for one would not have minded if the movie made time to show him going back for the shoes, because as it is I kept thinking about that weird little detail.

  25. Rogue4 –


    Although not much of a spoiler as who expected the handler to let him go quietly? I didn’t think much more into it other than in this line of work, you don’t get to quit. You’re either in it for life or they come after you. I was more interested in how they handle the end. Not played for tragedy, actually a bittersweet twist on the usual hitman downer ending.

    As for the women looking alike, at first I didn’t even realize the client was the same woman. She changed her hair in every scene and really looked like a different person. Don’t know what it means, but it’s interesting. And the fact that all the supporting actors were new faces to me in America made it more interesting to see them interact with Clooney.

  26. I remember when George was going down on the hooker my brother-in-law turns to me and asks, “so is that how you get a hooker to fall in love with you?” and I said “no, that’s just how you get mouth herpes” then as I finished that sentence he turns the hooker over and I said, “that’s how you get a hooker to fall in love with you.”

    All that aside, me, my bro-in-law and stepdad all really liked the movie especially the sadly happy ending. Two things, though, courtesy of my stepdad:

    1) The eating (you know of pussy) was his favorite part.
    2) when my cousin asked how the movie was he said flat out: “it was good and the first movie George Clooney died in.”

  27. my friend’s the reverse of that ‘don’t care about movies’ thing. Friday night, we’re both tired, figure we’ll turn off our brains and see Piranha 3D. it delivers the expected tits and gore

    movie ends and he turns into Robert fucking McKee, analyzing the script and the tension and the characterization (while still praising the tits ‘n gore)

    i hope The American and Machete open in Aus

  28. Spoilers, I guess? pretty spoilery thread anyway, but fuckers always must beware round these parts:

    I thought he capped his friend in the beginning cause there was no way to explain away why he was being shot at in the middle of nowhere and why he even had a gun in the first place. its like Heat. You gotta be able to walk away in 30 seconds flat from everything, and he can’t just leave her there as a witness. Self-preservation mandated that he kill her at that moment, and it all falls in line with how lonely he is and how he can’t form lasting relationships.

    I thought the movie was pretty good, I really liked the intense stillness and how much of the story was told without dialogue, but the story itself was a lil predictable (aside from the aforementioned opening scene). Oh, and I love how he pulled that Swede out of the crashed car and just broke his neck like he was ordering pizza, just another part of the job. Self preservation.

    The Picnicker cracked me up.

  29. Dan Prestwich – good call comparing this to LE SAMOURAI. One of my favorite films, and while this isn’t quite on that level, I really fucking liked it. Great review too Vern, my thoughts almost exactly.

    And like you, Dan, I saw this first in a double bill with MACHETE. And couldn’t shake the feeling that MACHETE was kind of an immature and tiresome take on not heavily explored genre material (Mexploitation) after such a sophisticated elevation of quite heavily explored genre material (hitman/spy thriller).

    The marketing ploy of making this look like a BOURNE type deal may have sold it to the box office, but critically it didn’t do itself any favors. I just worked up my blood pressure reading some of the comments on IMDB and some of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m really losing faith in the North American attention span. I suppose I should just be happy that Hollywood snuck a film festival type experience through the mass market pipeline, but I suppose I just don’t get the rubes calling this “boring” at all and think they’re, well, rubes.

    Also, I suppose one of the disadvantages of going to the cinema to watch such a quiet, hushed film that goes to great lengths to scrub all unnecessary exposition and dialogue from the proceedings and tell most of its story with visuals is that the old blue-hairs that you see the matinee with will take it upon themselves to provide their own exposition and dialogue. SPOILERS: “I think she’s double crossing him!”, “Did he make the gun so it shoots backwards?”, “Did he get shot?” JUST WATCH THE FUCKING MOVIE YOU OLD BAGS

    Oh and that hooker was fucking gorgeous.

  30. The other film this slightly reminded me of was THE PASSENGER.


    Do you think someday someone will make one of these movies where the protagonist makes it in the end, gets away by taking out his corrupt bosses and realizes that’s more original than the “tragic” ending that every other movie does? I mean, I thought this one handled it way better but it was the only part I found predictable. Of course they won’t let him leave, but I honestly thought he was so good he could have taken care of them and gone on his way.

  32. The original Paul

    September 8th, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Oh joy. Another good film that won’t be out over here for months, if at all. I’m avoiding previous comments because of spoilers, so apologies if I accidentally repeat anybody.

    I definitely get the sense that this has been mis-marketed over in the USA, but I’ve heard a bit about it and was looking forward to it. Especially now I’ve read a few reviews of it. I can watch and enjoy a “slow burn” movie, if it’s good (the last one I saw was “Kairo”, which was every bit as great as its supporters have said). I’m a little uneasy by some of the “Insomnia” comparisons that I’ve seen (easily the worst of Chris Nolan’s movies IMO) but I’ll make an effort to see this one.

    Seventy-eight days until Machete is released over here. FUCK HOLLYWOOD INTERNATIONAL DISTRIBUTION POLICIES.

  33. Gwai,

    Glad to see we were on the same page on this one. It’s funny, you’re right about this being closer to film festival fare. And yet… it’s not Antonioni, it’s not too demanding on its audience. It has action, intrigue, sex, Clooney… everything you could ask for in a thriller. Yet, because it also politely asks for the audience’s patience in a few places, maybe asking them to wait 15 minutes before the next time someone pulls a gun… apparently this leads some people to be bored by the film, or find it too slow or artsy of whatever.


    I agree that the ending seemed somewhat standard-issue (in fact, SPOILER, it’s pretty much the same ending as ASPHALT JUNGLE and RIFFIFI). On the other hand, a happy ending, while unexpected, would have been completely wrong for the movie. It’s a downbeat thriller with a road-to-nowhere vibe.

    I don’t like to speculate too much about what a movie could have been, or what I would have done differently, or whatever, but maybe there was some sort of happy medium that they could have found. A downbeat ending that was less expected.

    I do have to give it props (again, SPOILERS) for the sniper scene at the end. I really thought they were going to go for the obvious melodramatic ending where the sniper accidentally shoots the prostitute instead of Clooney. The reversal with the sniper rifle was an unexpected delight.

  34. The original Paul

    September 8th, 2010 at 8:53 am

    On a completely different but related subject, I saw “Shooter” last night. Fairly good “man on the run” film starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Mara. It didn’t blow me away, but it was a pretty good ride. Having the protagonist-as-sniper was a different twist on this kind of film – normally you get Bourne-style close-up action sequences combined with running-and-gunning. This one’s all about waiting, watching, angles, etc.

    Wahlberg is fairly convincing as a badass ex-military type, but he does play it down a little. He’s neither as badass or as convincingly damaged as you’d expect him to be. The villains – I won’t spoil who plays them – are fairly perfunctory, but I particularly liked Wahlberg’s opposite-man, a sniper. Again, can’t say what I liked about him without giving too much away, but let’s say it’s a new twist on an old fomula.

    Plus there’s a middle-Eastern FBI character played by Michael Pena, who not only turns out not to be an evil turncoat, but is portrayed in a refreshingly unstereotypical way. Even down to the manner of his death. (SPOILER: He lives. Seriously, he does. A middle-Eastern character in this kind of movie who’s alive at the end – what the heck happened there? Did someone have an aneurism?)

  35. Paul – But surely SHOOTER wasn’t too contrived with the police investigation and Whalberg doing a whole lot of COMMANDO shit considering he’s just a sniper?

    Of course this is Antoine Fuqua, the black Doug Liman: Still getting Hollywood mileage out of one hit decent movie. Made a long time ago.

  36. People hated Ghost Dog when you saw it Vern? Weird, it’s not like they stumbled into that one just fro somewhere to go for two hours at the multiplex.

    That movie kicked my ass, and still continues to do so.

  37. Stuntcock Mike: In some markets, GHOST DOG was marketed in the same way EXIT WOUNDS and ROMEO MUST DIE were: slick action b-movies. And it did play in some multiplexes. I remember wondering if Jarmusch had sold out, based on the promotional material available at the time. A few MTV type brats at the screening I saw complained among themselves.

    Every other Jarmusch film I’ve seen was shown in the local arthouse to audiences more appreciative of his style.

  38. SPOILERS SPOILERS taking up space to push this off the main page because I’m gonna talk about the ending SPOILER SPOILERS……..

    I also had a bit of an uh oh moment when he was hugging the prostitute in the parade, and really fucking hoped the movie wouldn’t have the sniper pull the trigger the instant the prostitute lunges forward to kiss him or something. THAT would have been the cliche way to end the movie tragically but allow for Clooney to get away alive. And because of what we see in the first scene, it would have even been appropriately foreshadowed and thematically appropriate.

    When you think about it there aren’t too many ways to end the movie: George dies and it’s tragic, George dies and it’s deserved, George lives and it’s tragic, George lives and it’s deserved, and finally what the movie itself opted for: who knows if George lived or died, shit is ambiguous yo. I mean maybe he died right there, or maybe he just passed out and she pushed him into the passenger seat and drove him to a doctor. It seemed like a gut wound, it takes a while to bleed out from those (in movies anyway). If he was conclusively dead at the end, then I wouldn’t have heard those old blue hairs sitting hear me ask each other if he was or not.


    Fun fact: Violante Placido (the prostitute character) is the daughter of Simonetta Stefanelli, also known as Apollonia from THE GODFATHER, the girl that Michael marries in Italy. I would like to formally thank the Placido family for their contribution to great tits in cinema.

  39. Jareth – you have no idea how many friends I marketed GHOST DOG as an EXIT WOUNDS/ROMEO MUST DIE type of action movie to back in the day. They were made to watch GHOST DOG but in many cases I temporarily lost my right to “pick the movie”. I was also working at a video store when it came out on DVD. Same deal there, except customers I recommended it to couldn’t really retaliate. I think every difficult movie should be marketed in a way the hoodwinks the general public. Maybe if THERE WILL BE BLOOD had been marketed as a MACHETE-like exploitation flick we wouldn’t have had to wait four years for P.T. Anderson’s next joint.

  40. The original Paul

    September 8th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    “Paul – But surely SHOOTER wasn’t too contrived with the police investigation and Whalberg doing a whole lot of COMMANDO shit considering he’s just a sniper?”

    RRA – this is the problem with the Internet. I have no idea whether you’re asking whether I think it’s contrived, suggesting that you disagree with me because you think it’s contrived, or saying that I thought it was contrived but you disagreed. You can literally read that sentence any one of three ways depending on emphasis.

    Anyway, yes, there are a couple of moments in the film where Wahlberg gets to do the “commando stuff”. But I can buy that, given he’s a marine and all. For the most part the sniping is the interesting part, and I thought they played into that one well.

    I haven’t read any reviews of this film – heck, I couldn’t FIND any reviews of this film, at least without Googling it, which I didn’t want to do, and at the time of writing this still haven’t – and saw it completely on recommendation. So I have no idea what other people generally think. But I thought it was a fun diversion, if not much more than that.

  41. Gwai,

    This first sentence is simply an effort to continue your thoughtfulness and not place a majro spoiler right on the home page. Ok, there.

    Not sure if I agree that Clooney’s death is really ambiguous at the end, but I’m willing to hear an argument to the contrary. It seems to me that, you know, he’s been seriously wounded, and the film ends with him slu,ping over and crashing a car. I guess we could take that to mean he’s just unconscious… but why? What about the scene indicates that he might still be alive? And what would it add to the film. It struck me as your classic ending where the wounded hero desperately tries to grasp salvation and falls short, dying first, a la ASPHALT JUNGLE or RIFFIFI or ROARING TWENTIES (and probably a tone of other gangster films). Add to that the fact that the final image is of the butterfly flying away, what with its connotations of a soul being released, and I don’t see much wiggle room.

    How could they have made the ending not ambiguous? Have the prostitute feel his pulse and announce to no one “he’s dead!”? I reminds me of the end of CHILDREN OF MEN; (SPOILER) I had a friend who argued that it’s ambiguous if Clive Owen dies or not, because all you see him do is slump over. He could be unconscious, sure, but doesn’t it seem like the movie is overwhelmingly suggesting death?

    This kind of ending can be done ambiguously (like IN BRUGES, where the last line is something to the effect of “And I really hoped I wouldn’t die,” as the screen fades to black). But my feelings is that THE AMERICAN leans pretty strongly on the “he’s dead” side of things. There’s a difference between something being ambiguous, and something not being spelled out but being heavily implied, and I think this film heavily implies that he’s dead. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.


    Well, most of my rationale is in the previous post. I myself also assume that he’s dead at the end. But then again the old people sitting near me couldn’t figure it out, which might be why I’m talking about ambiguity. He does, in fact, make it all the way to their meeting spot. The timing of his demise is pretty convenient. You hear the sound of him slumping on the horn, but the movie just pans off into the trees and you don’t see what happens after. It’s a lot more borderline than, say, HEAT, where we know there isn’t a chance in hell that Macauley is going to get the drop on Hanna and make his way back to Eady.

    But yeah, there’s certainly a better case for “he’s dead” than “he just passed out”, and I’d lean that way myself. I just think that if there’s even room for a discussion about it, it’s incorporating a little ambiguity. An optimist could convince themselves that Clara drove him to the priest, who stitched him up and sent them on their way.


  43. Gwai Lo: Do you have any idea what percentage of people that you recommended GHOST DOG to actually ended up liking the film? I gave up recommending Jarmusch films years ago when a date walked out on DEAD MAN.

    To this day it boggles my mind that SCARFACE is so adored, yet the majority of people who even bothered to see GHOST DOG have a negative opinion of it. LIMITS OF CONTROL I can see someone not liking; but, as Stuntcock Mike said, GHOST DOG just kicks so much ass.

  44. Gwai,

    Fair enough, although I still feel that this is more of a case of the movie not spelling things out in painful detail while still giving us enough information to put everything together. (as opposed to a movie that deliberately leaves things ambiguous). I like hearing your thoughts on this, though, so let me kick it up to the next level: if you think that the ending is deliberately ambiguous, what do you think the function of that ambiguity is? Why would Corbijn want to leave Clooney’s fate ambiguous or leave questions unanswered?

    (Note: I’m not asking these questions to undermine your point or issue a challenge or anything like that. I’m curious to hear what you think ambiguity adds to the end, or to the film overall, be it dramatically, tonally, thematically, whatever.)

  45. Jareth – of the customers at the video store, I don’t really know/remember. Of my friends at the time, not many actually liked it. I come from a generation that was heavily into classic hip hop so the RZA score and hip hop vibe earned a certain amount of mileage I think, but most of my friends regarded it as a failed action movie and not the zen koan type of deal it completely succeeds at being. They probably would have liked it if it was Snipes instead of Whitaker and all that quiet and thoughtful bullshit wasn’t in there.

  46. Gwai Lo: Ten minutes into DEAD MAN my date said, “This isn’t anything like YOUNG GUNS!” I can’t say I was sad to see her leave after that. But I did pause for a moment to contemplate the state of the world, and deemed it lacking.

    During your time working at a video store, were you ever tempted to suggest the original SOLARIS to STAR WARS kids?

  47. Little known fact about SHOOTER: It was based on the book by pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post Film Critic Stephen Hunter. Guess that’s the kind of film he’s been waiting for his whole career. Now if only Armond White would get into the screenwriting biz…

  48. Dan – (SPOILERS) I wish I had paid more attention to the sound at the end. This movie did use sound quite effectively as a device, to the point where I think it was meant to put us in the head of Clooney. It seems quiet and hushed, but that’s really just our hitman tuning out the extraneous elements of what he hears. Whenever a significant sound occurs, like the Vespa backfiring, it’s loud and immediate. I can’t remember the sound in the very last scene, but I suspect it faded out. Or did the sound of chirping birds and running water remain?

    Anyway, hmm… significance. I don’t really know, other than it’s the European thing to do. To concretely show him dead at the end would reinforce what has become a somewhat cliched moral revelation: crime doesn’t pay. To concretely show him alive at the end would support a somewhat morally untenable position: you can be rewarded for a criminal life without serious consequence. Since we both basically agree he’s probably dead at the end I guess the vague whiff of ambiguity I’m mentioning here is meant to steer the ending away from the type of sermonizing an ending like that would convey.


  49. I haven’t seen this yet, although I want to, but I’ve given up even trying to recommend slow-moving movies to people. I keep them shits to myself and save the hassle.

  50. Jareth – I actually wasn’t aware of SOLARIS at that point, and might not have approached it with the same zeal for difficult art films that I had in university. Speaking of SOLARIS, I recently found a third film adaptation of the book (!!!), a Russian TV movie from 1968 that is so rare that it doesn’t even have an IMDB page. I don’t, however, have any English subtitles for it. Anyone here speak Russian? I would pay you to make fansubs… I found it on cinemageddon.net. Add this to the list of reasons why I should really get off my ass and get to work on that sci-fi site.

  51. I’ve gotten my current lady obsessed with THE ROOM. I think she’s a keeper.

  52. And if it doesn’t work out, you’ve already got a slew of handy catchphrases to help you through the breakup!

  53. Maybe you should have a girl, Majestyk.

  54. Gwai,

    Interesting idea, that leaving out certain or definitive information could be a strategy to avoid casting moral judgment.


    And the irony is, this movie really isn’t that slow. It’s a genuine thriller, meaning there’s lots of suspense and tension hanging over most of the film, all sorts of intrigue and plot developments, etc etc, even some honest to goodness, probably wouldn’t happen in real life, shoot-em-up action scenes. The action may be infrequent, but most of the stuff in between in entertaining and serves a clear purpose. But, you know, shit only hits the fan 3 or 4 times in the movie instead of 20, and the movie asks you to watch Clooney assembling guns a few times (which, we can agree, is badass and not boring) or accept that the suspense is in the subtext of a scene instead of overt, and that’s too much for some people.

    Honestly, this movie isn’t perfect, but it is in so many ways exactly the kind of serious, well-constructed action movie I think a lot of us have been looking for that I think action fans owe it to themselves to see it, and yet too many of them are going to write it off because they don’t like the part where Clooney sits in a cafe by himself for a minute.

  55. I’m definitely going to see it on DVD. I’d like to see it in the theater, but the exorbitant cost of tickets has robbed me of the pleasure of seeing every movie I want to on the big screen. Shit’s gotten so out of hand that I’ve started going to the theater the day before to buy my ticket in person just to save on the Fandango charge.

  56. Anton Corbijn directed the brillant CONTROL. I find no suprise at all that THE AMERICAN is a good movie. Corbijn is the real deal.

  57. RRA,

    Liman made Swingers, which was a hit and not bad. He made the excellent GO. He’s a smart guy and he’ll be back. I have less confidence/interest in Fuqua.

    Speaking of SPOILERS, so wait, I feel like that elderly couple in the theater, but the boss didn’t shoot the assassin lady at the end? (I know, why would he? But then, why was he right there?) Clooney booby-trapped her? (I know, why would he?) So I do have to see this again. Ah well.

  58. Josh – SPOILERS – it was my understanding that Clooney suspected he was the mark (or at least that something had gone awry) and rigged the rifle to backfire into the assassin chick’s face. The boss would have had no reason to kill the assassin chick, he wanted her to kill Clooney. (Whether that was always his intention, or whether he only decided this after Clooney quit, I’m not sure. I suspect the latter, since we see him call her and issue the order well into the movie, and we also see her hastily try to get the job done with a pistol before using the actual rifle.) I suppose he only arrived at the end because he was pre-emptively putting the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” theory to work.

  59. Josh – You’re right about his early works but Liman’s subsquent movies post-Bourne, all actioneers cashing in on his action connection…have been rather worthless if you ask me.

  60. Gwai, I thank the blue hairs in your theater for adding ambiguity to the ending for me. I assumed it was showing us what happened but now they’ve opened my eyes to another possible interpretation, one I personally prefer but I’m okay either way.

  61. We’ll see how the rest of the year plays out, but I’m calling 2010 the Year of the Thriller. With the exception of TOY STORY 3 and WILD GRASS, I think all of my favorite movies this year have been, to one degree or another, thrillers. THE AMERICAN, INCEPTION, CHLOE and especially MOTHER and WINTER’S BONE are all fantastic, and wildly different, takes on the genre that in some that ion their own way expand the genre’s possibilities. (Also, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, while not one of my favorites, is a top-notch thriller).

    We need a year like this for horror movies.

  62. BTW, I just read that the score of this movie was composed by German singer Herbert Grönemeyer (which is no surprise, considering that Corbijn directed several videos for him). He’s that guy from “Das Boot”, who beat up a Paparazzi on my local cemetary, with a little help from Jürgen Prochnow, if anyone cares. (I mentioned this incident a few times on here because it’s maybe the most interesting thing that ever happened in this town.)

  63. I normally hate George Clooney’s movies, but I respect the hell out of Anton Corbijn, so that’s what has my interest here. Even if I end up hating the movie, or just Clooney in the movie, I’ll probably love the way it’s shot because I’ll be damned if Corbijn doesn’t take the most gorgeous photographs I’ve ever seen. Plus he’s shot all of my favorite U2 videos, so he’s got that going for him, too.


    I like the idea of ambiguity at the end, but I think the part that clinched it for me as for Clooney’s character dying, is when he notices he is bleeding and slams his fist into the steering wheel in anger because he knows he is not going to live but is determined see her again before he dies.

  65. Dan, good call on Chloe. What an awesome movie about grown-ups making adult decisions. You know from Twitter I didn’t think much of Dragon Tattoo.

    Michelle, I thought the same thing as you, but I like the other idea because it would be different from all the other hitman movies.

    BTW: Guys, I did think of a few hitman movies where the retiring hitman gets a happy ending, but they’re all comedies. I won’t name them because I don’t want to spoil the comedies with happy endings.

  66. Fred,

    Yeah, I think CHLOE got seriously underrated this year, mainly because critics seemed to view it as some sort of tawdry FATAL ATTRACTION knock-off. Of course, I’m partial to Egoyan in general, so maybe I was more willing to accept the melodrama of the last 10 minutes or so.

    Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that boldly, awesomely sexy as CHLOE.

  67. Payback.

  68. Finally saw THE AMERICAN. Things I learned (roughly in order):

    1. Swedes are bad hitmen.
    2. When you’re a hitman afraid for his life and somebody is following you, don’t bother moving towns, just stick around. Actually you probably shouldn’t be all that scared, see #3.
    3. Swedes are bad hitmen (again!)
    4. Prostitutes in small towns in Italy look like Playboy playmates circa 1982. Holy moly.
    5. When you reverse a gun and make it fire backwards, the bullet magically goes up into the telescopic sight (site?) and hits the shooter in the eye.

    I don’t think the bullet hit the girl in the eye actually, probably the gun was just made to misfire and part of the bolt action fired backwards and killed her. But whatever. It still should have hit her in her cheek or jaw and not in her eye.

    6. Hitman bosses are also bad hitmen. Better at it than Swedes I guess but still pretty lousy.

    I guess this is one of those “make you think” movies because I have been thinking about it. But there isn’t much point I guess – Clooney didn’t die a heroic death saving his prostitute girlfriend, he didn’t get her killed, etc., he just got what he probably deserved and died quietly. Not a bad thing.

  69. I didn’t like this one. The main reason was that it is boring as far as I’m concerned maybe because I don’t like Clooney as an actor (except in From Dusk Till Dawn) and this was not enough of a performance for me to appreciate him – without actually liking him. Anyway it was long, slow and whatever action was there was not exciting, and there was this self aware air throughout the film which wouldn’t bother me if the story was well told but it just was not my thing. Now if this film starred an actor I liked maybe it wouldn’t feel such a loss of time.

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